The SPB Q: Barry Michael Cooper

{I remember seeing New Jack City the first time and thinking, Damn, my friend wrote that! I also remember tearing up at the end of Sugar Hill and thinking the same thing. Both viewings were in small New York screening rooms and both times I was with a little crew of friends, all of whom pretty much had a similar relationship that I did to award-winning journalist and (now successful screenwriter) Barry Michael Cooper—he was a mentor, a friend, a hero.

When it came to mentors during my early days at the Village Voice, I was like a kid in a big left-leaning ink-stained downtown candy store. I learned many things from many peeps; I learned how to keep it real, both in life and on the page, from Barry Michael Cooper. The first day we met, I was a bit intimidated: This was the kat who’d written that brilliant Voice story about Teddy Riley (the writer who’d invented the term “New Jack Swing”) as well as the devastating article that gave New Jack City its name (“Kids Killing Kids: New Jack City Eats its Young”)—what was I gonna say to him? But I didn’t have to say much. Before I could let him know how great I thought he was, he was telling me how much he liked my nascent, New Jack stabs at journalism. The second time we met, later that week, me, him, and Ben Mapp (a writer and copy editor at the Voice, and a dear friend) spent about five hours on a bench down in SoHo, talking about everything under the sun…or the moon, as it were, in that late-night case.

I hadn’t met many writers by that point—I was a recent college dropout thinking he could make it as a journalist in early 90s NYC—but after meeting Barry, I didn’t have to. Talking to him, about any and everything, was like a master class in life: he told me Harlem stories, he told me Village stories, he told me B-More stories, he waxed well about movies as much as music. He seemed to have a laser beam where other people merely had a brain, scooping up knowledge and blasting it back around with the quickness. Barry once called me F. Scott Poulson-Bryant—before he even knew how much I loved Fitzgerald’s work. I laughed it off—I had to, of course; what writer wants that pressure on his neck?—but it secretly gave me a boost of confidence that I was onto something in this writing game.  When I wrote my Puff Daddy profile for VIBE in 1992, the first call I got about it was from Barry, telling me how good he thought it was. I had to tell him: I couldn’t have written it without his Teddy Riley story setting the stage.

Nowadays, we don’t see each other as often as we did when we were NYC’ers on the journalism grind, but BMC’s always in my heart and on my mind. So if we’re not tweeting each other or emailing, I’m checking out his blog Hooked on the American Dream, where he posts news and information (he also writes for The Huffington Post) as well as some of his old articles and tributes to some of the hiphop greats who defined eras. Go there right now and read “Mary J. Blige: Our Lady of Glamorous Sorrows,”  from the Andre Harrell memoir Barry worked on in 2008. Or check out the “The Diary of Nino Brown,” a novella that’s the prequel AND sequel to New Jack City. I’m so glad to have Barry doing the SPB Q. After years of chat I sorta knew what some of the answers would be; but, typical of Barry, he still managed to surprise me in some ways. Just as he always will. Hope you enjoy!}

Name: Barry Michael Cooper

Hometown:   Harlem, New York, NY

Zodiac sign:   Not sure. My birthday is in the second week of June.

Favorite book: The Bible (and after that Crime and Punishment and Native Son)

Favorite author: GOD (and after that Fyodor M. Dostoevsky and Richard Wright)

Favorite movie: The Godfather Part II (and after that The Conformist and Sugar Hill)

Favorite song: Marvin Gaye’s “Wholly Holy” (but really, too many to mention)

Fictional character you wish you had created: Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (and after that Bigger Thomas)

Career High: The release of both Sugar Hill and Above The Rim in the same year (1994), a month apart from each other (February 25th and March 23rd, 1994. The first time a Black screenwriter had accomplished such a feat. GOD Is Great.)

Life High: Me being in the delivery room for the births of each of my two wonderful Sunz.

You’re on a desert island and can only have 5 CDs/books/ or DVDs shipped in to you. What are they?

Wow. Okay.

CDs:

  • Marvin Gaye What’s Going On
  • Curtis Mayfield, Super Fly
  • Omar, Best By Far
  • Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, Jesus Gave Me Water
  • Parliament-Funkadelic, Funkentelchy and the Placebo Syndrome

Books

  • The Bible
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Native Son
  • Garry Wills, Nixon Agonistes
  • Gay Talese, Honor Thy Father

DVDs:

  • The Godfather Part II
  • The Godfather
  • Sugar Hill
  • The Conformist
  • There Will Be Bloood

Your favorite quote: “What shall we then say to these things? If GOD be for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

Guilty pleasure: Café Cubano and/or Ethiopian coffee.

Go here to read Barry’s Teddy Riley profile: Hooked on the American Dream.

7 Comments

Filed under film, The SPB Q, Uncategorized, writing

7 responses to “The SPB Q: Barry Michael Cooper

  1. Fantastic read!!! As always.

  2. Scott, my brother, I have no words. None (and I’m a writer! lol). You are not only a great writer, theorist, critic, author, teacher, scholar, screenwriter, and cultural arbiter, you are just a great human being. Thank you for this profile. You made this ol’ head look good. I appreciate it and GOD Bless you, my friend.

  3. Harlem in the house: great post on a great guy. Barry’s writing taught me that one could be smart and still have swagger.

  4. SPB,
    You “got” BMC — his journalism, his talent, his friendship, his humanity.

    Lots of great memories from the VV days. And many of them involve you and/or BMC. Thanks for memorializing that evening on the bench.

    There’s so many things to say. And that image captures it all.

    Peace,
    Ben

  5. Pingback: The Official Page Of Barry Michael Cooper | Twitter Page | Facebook Page | Youtube Page

  6. ms omar

    Please tell us when you’re going to have Screenwriting Classes !!!!!!! Vicegerent Khalifah Taq’wa Muslimah- ALLAH (SWT) BLESS You w/Continued Success-Peace & Blessings- Sincerely & Respectfully, Ms. Omar

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